Phones 4 Who?

By Morgan Holt, Global Principal and Strategy Director

In the end, the demise of Phones4U is a positive signal that phone companies are getting better at living up to their brand. And a signal that the middlemen need a bigger role than a marked-up conveyor belt.

So another middleman is dead. Long live the direct shopper. There’s very little you can’t buy online. Everyday food and clothes, cars, houses. It is a galling side effect of working in a shop that every other customer conversation finishes “oh, don’t worry, I’ll find it online then.”

So when your business is simply selling consumer electronics and a simcard then the ice feels very thin indeed. And companies that add zero value beyond price better have a life jacket. Companies like Phones4U and Dixons Carphone do little more than slow down the buying process and force you to leave your home to buy one of life’s essentials.

So from one perspective, it was inevitable. Phones4U added no more value to the mobile world than Woolworths did to Amazon’s. If everyone can buy online, then anyone can sell online, and Vodafone and O2 and EE are every bit as capable of flogging their stuff as a middleman.

But from another perspective, we are in the middle of a major evolution shift in the ability of mobile phone companies to once again show their value. These once-unstoppable challengers enjoyed fifteen years of fame as the access points to a new world. Today, the mobile phone is arguably the most powerful social force in the world, and Orange and Vodafone and their like made that happen. For us.

And then it stopped. Everyone took them for granted. A decade ago, the focus switched to handsets, and then apps. The network operators found themselves pleading, their confidence waning like unwanted child stars on daytime TV.

So the smart ones have been busily reinventing themselves. Not just around comedy campaigns and price cuts, but real attention to the things that matter. Choosing a brand position that stands up for customers, beyond the simplistic choice of colour and name that once carved up a market.

Over the past few years companies like EE and Vodafone and O2 have become very good at it. They know that networks are fundamental to living and they are busily establishing themselves as the best way of using their network - in convergence, in entertainment, in having everything while you’re on the move.

So much so that the mobile industry shows real green shoots of (he says in a hushed whisper) no longer looking like a commoditised market! We’re not there yet, but network operators are much better now at responding healthily and honestly to customers. Not perfect, but much better. And better at finding meaningful relationships that get better over time. And showing that the handset is important to you, but the way you use it is even more important.

Telcos are building the brand of their networks in a way that goes far beyond knock-down prices.

Which means companies like Phones4U have nothing to offer. Nothing.

If I was sitting in Dixons Carphone I’d be wondering what value I could bring that was as meaningful to the mobile consumer as the network brands will be in 2015. Otherwise, man the lifeboats.

Getting our hands dirty


By Pierre-Antoine Arlot

Something that unites pretty much everyone within Wolff Olins’ world wide diversity is food. Food as a well-being vector, something intrinsically rooted in our culture as a way to keep the energy high and to achieve better balance in our life.

Now eating food is one thing but making it is another kettle of fish. One of the great initiatives of Wolff Olins well-being programme is the Cookery Club. Every once in a while, a few of us gather in the kitchen with our beloved chef, Sam, to follow his directions. Everyone chips in and the money raised is donated to a local association, the Manna, helping people who are marginalised or vulnerable.


This time we learned how to make a delicious traditional Mediterranean fish stew, La Bouillabaisse, followed by a DIY sponge cake contest. Full recipes are available here.

We all got our hands dirty and shared a great moment of convivialité. Something precious, that reminded me that you never achieve great things without getting all in and the process is as, if it is not more, enjoyable than the outcome. Totally worth getting my hands dirty – yum!

Isn’t she lovely?


By Aditi Joshi & Chris Walker

In a sea of cultural icons deemed #flawless that #wokeuplikethis, the Asian Art Museum and SFMOMA pose the question of what ‘gorgeous’ means across time and time zones. The collaboration is the largest to date of SFMOMA’s “on the go” programming, a series of partnerships with Bay Area arts organizations during the museum’s close.

The museum mash-up brings two seemingly disparate art forms together. Yet, our work with both museums nodded to some common hurdles. Both forms have reputations for being challenging for viewers, at times difficult to connect to and inaccessible to the masses. The exhibition manages not only to break down barriers between the art, but also between the institutions and viewers at large.

The conversations sparked by Gorgeous offer learnings for the museum space that’s trying to gain more art lovers and advocates across the world.

1. Demystify the art. Everyone was a beginner at some point.

Gorgeous took a step away from the traditional approach of more academic language and upright attitudes throughout the space. The tone was more casual, conversational.

Labels displayed points of view from two curators from Asian Art, offering background and viewpoints to help make sense of the pieces and their context. Their inside view decoded how ‘gorgeous’ can be dangerous, seductive, and fantastical; the placards were guiding and unpretentious, informative, yet conscientious.  

Writing is one piece of the broader puzzle – but was a clear attempt to make the art meaningful to more of the exhibition’s visitors.

2. Encourage conversation with viewers. Spark deeper connections.

As museums push to become more participatory, some fear the loss of the traditional experience that supports individual, silent contemplation. The exhibition showed how the museum could be participatory and contemplative by posing questions to viewers about the work prompting a deeper internal dialogue.

They also balanced the quieter, more individual moments with spaces for conversation among viewers. In between the four, door-protected galleries, visitors could talk to each other, literally draw their own interpretations of ‘gorgeousness’, or hear views from the streets of San Francisco on the complicated and often varied views of beauty. Participatory exhibitions are not necessarily the circus. Rather, they can help viewers have a deeper connection to the art and the museum.

3. Encourage conversation among institutions. Keep collections and perspectives fresh.

Gorgeous is a tremendous experiment. It takes two seemingly different collections and places them in the same space, seeking to find a rhythm between Jeff Koons and a 15th century sculpted torso of a female deity from Southern India. The effect of bringing both museums into the same space is two fold. Firstly, it prevents the museum from becoming a siloed island of thinkers. Secondly, and more importantly, it forges new connections for viewers and curators alike, challenging traditional interpretations by placing seemingly unrelated work side by side.

The experiment is limited – but important. It shows the benefits of letting down a museum’s walls to invite new ideas and debates about the importance and interpretation of both museums’ collections.

Museums mean different things to different audiences. They are sanctuaries and playgrounds, destinations and tasks, cultural institutions and culture creators.  Gorgeous is brilliant because, through its approach, it starts new - and deepens existing - conversations.   

The Gorgeous exhibit is on at the Asian Art Museum until this Sunday, September 14th. 

Topping out at SFMOMA


By Chris Walker

It’s always cool to see our work out in the world. We worked with SFMOMA in 2013 and, at yesterday’s topping out ceremony, we saw them using the open, participatory and community centered brand we co-created.

We popped over to the event during lunch to celebrate the placement of the highest beam on the museum’s new building expansion. It was quite an event—binoculars, hardhats, photo booths, food trucks, a high school band. All free and open to the public. With ‘where art can take you’ printed on a hard hat, SFMOMA on the go’s line ‘we’ve temporarily moved…everywhere’ has truly come into full swing.  

What really made the event such a success was not the perfect pairing of sunshine and ice cream. Rather, it was the museum’s approach to the event. The museum took a moment that could have been exclusive and elite and made it open and accessible. And, there was a tremendous effort to bring SFMOMA into conversation with the city of San Francisco. SF Jazz played a little concert and the event was held in Jessie Square, right next to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.    

It’s awesome to see a museum playing an active role with the community. Being interactive and collaborative helps redefine what it means for a museum to be a pillar of cultural authority.

Money Now event


By Katie Farrell

We started off asking ourselves a big question: What is the future of money? But, looking at the future is inherently unpredictable. As researcher and scientist Roy Amara famously said, “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”

When looking at the future of money the answers become extreme and often unfeasible: Cashless society! Global currency! The extinction of money! But, by looking at what we know today we can begin to understand what could happen in the long-run. So, at Wolff Olins, we’ve decided to look simply at Money Now.

Money is defined as “a medium of exchange, a unit of account, and a store of value”. But inherently imbedded in money are many types of meaning. And very human ones. Money can be intertwined in self-identity, a proxy for trust, and a system of belief.

Today money is going through an expansion of medium and technology. It’s becoming more seamless, more democratic, and maybe more human. As this happens, its meaning continues to evolve and expand, as do people’s relationship with money. From a brand perspective, understanding this relationship is infinitely interesting: is money shaping people or are people shaping money?

On Thursday, 18 September we’ll be discussing Money Now––people’s relationship with and if, in fact it’s becoming more human––with leaders from Zopa, the Brixton Pound, GoCardless, Barclays, Nutmeg, and Interactive Investor amongst others. Luqman Arnold, former chairman of UBS and former CEO of Abbey National will also share his view on opportunities in the space.

Check back here for some of our learnings after the event.


We’re hiring: Senior Designer, San Francisco

This is a pivotal design role at Wolff Olins – you are the main engine of the design that happens here. The majority of the creative “heavy lifting” takes place by the head and the hands of you. A senior designer is primarily responsible for the visual thrust behind any ideas being expressed, but should also contribute just as much to the strategic thinking and rationale behind those ideas. You should be able to excite and inspire people around you – both colleagues and clients – and earn their respect and confidence.  You must be able to make confident design decisions, and be smart and persuasive in bringing others with you.  You should be comfortable engaging with the strategic dimension of our work, able to get under the skin of clients’ issues, strong on content as well as visuals, and multi-disciplinary.

You can come from any design background, but you must be 100% credible in one of our core disciplines of graphic design, interaction design or motion graphics. Particular attention will be paid to your experience in digital formats. Web and interactive design experience is a plus. You’ll have at least 4 years of creative experience

If this describes you, please email your portfolio and anticipated salary range to with the subject: SD in SF.

Please note: While we appreciate everyone’s interest in Wolff Olins, due to high number of applicants, we can only respond directly to those who best qualify and meet the specific criteria and standards of these roles.

Musings on #AppleLive


Intro by Camilla Grey

Unable to get an invite to the actual event Too busy doing game changing work to attend the Apple Keynote, a few of the nerdier members of Wolff Olins endured the livestream fails, Tommy’s scarf and U2 to watch along from our desks. Technology Director, Anthony leads the response with his thoughts on the future of wellness and wearables. Senior Designer, LA, gets deep into DIN, And Chris, a strategist over in WOSF, took to the streets, stores and hipster hangouts of The Bay Area to take the temperature of Apple’s homeland. 

Whether you’re a fanboy or a hater, a Mac or a PC, there’s no denying that Apple threw a great launch yesterday, and were far more conversational and open than we’ve ever known them to be. From their (admittedly patchy) livestream, to their “ok, Twitter is actually kind of useful” liveblogging, to their new fashionista BFF's, they managed to turn a product announcement into a fun, celebratory, global event.

And, as Josh Helfferich​ pointed out, “If you’re having a bad day, remember that there’s some guy that needs to tell Tim Cook that half the live stream had Chinese dubbing”. At the end of the day, it’s PR not ER, everyone be cool.

Can Apple take health and fitness wearables mainstream?

By Anthony Galvin

Apple’s Keynote announcement provided much more detail about Apple’s approach to health and fitness tracking. Although many software features and APIs linked to the ‘Health Kit' software were announced at WWDC in June, it's only now that we are able to see how this fits into Apple's functionally integrated eco-system.

The new iPhone has a dedicated health and fitness (M8) co-processor (tasked with tracking movement) and uses ‘native’ GPS functionality to understand the amount and the type of activity a user achieves during the day. Combined with heart rate monitoring and additional motion tracking in the Apple Watch, developers now have a huge amount of data available.

The list of start-ups, app developers and innovative businesses who think that health and fitness tracking hardware and software represents the future of wellness is a long one. But this is already a crowded market with the likes of Fitbit, Jawbone and Polar already forcing established players such as Nike to rethink their approach. At the time of writing the #1 paid app in the UK Apple app store is a £1.49 health and fitness app - Apple knows how much money health and fitness is worth to the developer community (and how much it makes through App Store revenues).

But the challenge for many in this space is not getting people to part with their well earned cash, but to convince people to continue to use (and recommend) their products. Some reports claim that between 50% and 75% of users stop using their wearable device within six months. 

With Health Kit, Apple and its developers are hoping to use the fact that your phone (and or watch) is always with you to create new metrics and supercharge existing apps such as Nike+ or Strava, all without users having to do anything more than carry a phone or wear a watch.

Whilst Apple are not the first phone and device manufacturers to incorporate fitness data into their products, by creating a simple way for users track and interact with powerful data and complex metrics they may have helped fast forward the category beyond the fitness enthusiasts and brought health wearables into the mainstream.

Photo via Apple

Apple Watch goes DIN


By LA Hall

Apple’s font loyalty has been a bit all over the place in recent years. With iOS and OSX Yosemite seemingly going Helvetica Neue, Apple fanboys and typography nerds may have noticed DIN creep in as the perplexing choice of font for the Camera app with the iOS 7 update. With the launch of the Apple Watch, however, perhaps that wasn’t an accident after all - most, if not all, of the watch’s UI has been built around DIN. They’ve even included it in the metallic engraving of the hardware, as well as rounded cuts for the running app.

I’m definitely a fan of the hard-working DIN family, even if it’s slightly overused. But I can’t help but wonder how they came to that decision, since Helvetica has established itself in mobile iOS, and now desktop OSX, with Lucida Grande retired. And of course Myriad Pro for communications, like on their website. So why DIN for the Apple Watch?

If anything, Apple have some work to do figuring out how everything (UI and hardware) fits together, especially with a shiny, new addition to the family.

Update: As it turns out, our original hunch was correct that it is indeed a custom font developed internally (which appears to be a close cousin of DIN).

"Demand drives functionality"


By Chris Walker

I went on a walk through San Francisco today to get some real time feedback (and pre-thoughts) on Apple’s Keynote presentation.  There was surprisingly less energy today than expected. Almost everyone was interested, but hardly anyone was engaged. Around 11AM, I was grabbing coffee and chatting with a student reading Robert Crumb’s Kafka.  He was eager to hear about the new iPhone, but not doing much to keep up with the conversation (the iPhone 6 and 6 plus had already been officially released).  Despite the head-glued-to-live-Twitter-feed scenario that I expected, there were some brilliant soundbytes before, during and after the keynote. 

 “Demand dictates functionality”

My UberPool driver said this as he took me from just outside the office to Sightglass coffee in the Mission. It was also before the keynote had started. 

We were talking about the difference between swiping and pressing a button to unlock a phone.  While that conversation is not particularly interesting, it is hyper-relevant for a device like the Apple Watch.  

As consumers, we are always looking for something new and something more. In the case of the Apple Watch, among other things, we were looking for a way to use our phones without interrupting dinner conversations. With the ability to respond in emojis and pay with our wrist, it is clear that consumer demand influences product function.  

“To be honest, I need a small phone because I wear tight pants and a big phone just doesn’t fit.  A thinner phone would be awesome”

Enter the phablet.  For some it’s a huge leap forward (or a huge catch up).  For an employee from Steven Alan, it’s a massive challenge.   Indeed, everyone I spoke to seemed to have a clear opinion on screen size, and it was almost equally divided between people praising and condemning the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 plus’s bigger screens.  

As soon as I heard this, I immediately thought back to when the iPhone 5S was released. It was bigger, it was different at first, but after a week or two, it felt completely natural.  

The new iPhones are a different beast.  But, something like phone size is massively important not just for fitting in pockets.  It changes the way we hold the device, what we do on the device, and how we consume media. 

“Why is it called the Apple Watch not the iWatch?”

This is my favorite little bit from today. I was talking to an older man over lunch that didn’t know that Apple had a conference today, let alone that they were releasing a watch today. I told him a bit about it, and, in the middle my explanation, he asked why Apple Watch, not iWatch?  

Brilliant question. Where a product falls in an ecosystem, and what it’s named, are two incredibly relevant questions (especially for us at Wolff Olins who think about architecture and naming all the time). For Cedric, the older man at lunch, it was purely a matter of comprehension. If the iPhone and Apple Watch are in conversation with one another, why wouldn’t the watch be an iWatch?

 Perhaps it’s a legal question. Perhaps we’re growing up and getting sick of the ‘i’ everything. Maybe Apple Watch feels less inspector-gadgety than iWatch.  Whatever the reason, Cedric’s question clearly demonstrates the role that a name plays in navigating such firmly established territory.